Diary – May 11, 1994


Euro-sceptics may soon find new allies in the unlikely form of West-End impresarios, directors, playwrights and producers. In what is perhaps its most controversial proposal, the European Union is preparing to issue a directive which will ban the most spectacular theatrical effects.
Revolving stages such as those used in Les Miserables, Carousel and The Wind in the Willows are to be slowed to limits deemed quite absurd by the Association of British Theatre Technicians (ABTT), whilst, even the most sprightly actors are to be banned from leaping on and off them.

The regulations, effective from 1995, are part of new EU health and safety standards and there are already fears that the machinery restrictions will extend beyond turning platforms.

‘I can’t see how things like on-stage helicopters (Miss Saigon) and roller-skating ramps (Starlight Express) will still be allowed,’ said Roger Fox, vice-chairman of ABTT, adding: ‘The EU does not seem to understand that theatres are not like factories.’

Cricked necks, hunched shoulders, and stiff legs are being stretched as champagne is poured by staff at the Victoria and Albert Museum, preparing to move out of their cramped-would-be-an-understatement offices into more spacious surroundings behind the museum in what was originally the Royal College of Art. The museum is shelling out pounds 8m to revamp the Grade I listed building, which will be a centre for preservation of the ‘decorative’ arts, as well as new offices. These, I’m told, are so smart, staff may actually have trouble readjusting – as one fondly put it: ‘We’re used to working in a Portacabin.’

Unlike the repeated insistence of Messrs Heseltine and Portillo that they have no wish, at present, to rise to giddier heights, the Education Secretary, John Patten, clearly feels no such encumbrances on his career ambitions. He has tried to change his title to that of ‘President’, he admitted at a conference in London last week, in emulation of Rab Butler, President of the Board of Education in the Forties. Sadly Mr Patten’s efforts have been doomed to failure -despite, it should be added, every effort by his permanent secretary, Sir Tim Lancaster. The title of President has been abolished and there is no way of getting it back, he has been told. This, admitted Mr Patten, has not been the only obstacle in this path. Presidents require boards . . . and boards require to be heard.

Undisputed though it is that the outgoing American ambassador, Ray Seitz , will be deeply missed by the British establishment, there was special mourning yesterday among the Commons cricket XI as they set off to play a team from Acas on the Civil Service pitch in Chiswick. The match was a late fixture, replacing what was to have been a Commons vs US embassy match, staged on a home-made pitch in the ambassador’s garden in Regent’s Park.

‘Seitz was planning to cut a wicket in his lawn,’ explained the Commons captain, John Hutton MP. ‘We were all so excited about it, but we knew we’d have to cancel if he left. His replacement, Admiral Crowe, had other engagements but we hope to reschedule next year.’

A hope that may be quickly squashed, I fear, for on calling the US embassy, a spokesman was emphatic: ‘Admiral Crowe is not remotely keen on cricket. He has never played the game, he has never been to Lord’s and nothing happens at his residence without his knowledge or approval.’

If the London Philharmonic conductor, Franz Welser, looked a trifle pale, performing Mahler’s second symphony at the Royal Festival Hall on Tuesday night, he had good reason.

In front of him, singing in the choir, and carefully watching every flick of the baton was Christopher Lawrence, managing director of the LPO and payer, therefore, of Welser’s wages.

‘Hmm,’ Lawrence said thoughtfully afterwards: ‘It’s interesting to see the conductor from the other side for once.’ String section beware – he is also a keen cellist.